Joe Vitale, F, Pittsburgh (NHL): The Penguins have dropped five straight, and the news that Sidney Crosby is ready to skate couldn’t have come at a better time (I hope they’re not jumping the gun). In November, Vitale averaged around 13 minutes a game, but in 3 games in the new year, he’s only been allotted just 9:40 on average, and was a scratch in last night’s shutout loss to the Capitals. Vitale finds himself in a constant fight for ice time in his role as fourth line center. The Penguins are too structurally sound for their woes to continue, and Vitale brings too much energy to the game to stay grounded.
Jamie Oleksiak, D, Niagara (OHL): The towering defenseman was traded over break from Saginaw to Niagara in a blockbuster deal. The Ice Dogs gave up a lot for Oleksiak, who joins a contending team after a solid World Junior performance for third place Canada. He joins Bruins top prospect and Canada teammate Dougie Hamilton on a stacked blue line.
Brodie Reid, F, Worcester (AHL): Brodie Reid received his first professional penalty Tuesday. The season started months ago for the Sharks prospect. He also scored two goals Saturday, leaving his total at 7 goals and 16 points in 24 games.
Tyler McNeely, F, Bridgeport (AHL): It’s official. McNeely has emerged as the enforcer of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI). Contributing eight points this year has helped the undersized winger bolster his leadership role as well.
Wade MacLeod, F, Springfield (AHL): MacLeod returns from injury to help the Falcons (CBJ) make a late season run. He has 12 points in 25 games.
Brad Thiessen, G, Wilkes-Barre-Scranton (AHL): The netminder has been struggling lately but is in a rebound. After giving up 14 goals in 3 games, Thiessen has recovered to win two in a row, one shootout, and on Tuesday a victory for the Penguins in which he turned away 24 out of 26 shots. It’s an uphill climb, but Thiessen has shown he is much better than what his numbers say.
Dennis McCauley, D, Reading (ECHL): Typical McCauley. His team is clawing for wins but the former NU fan favorite is scoring at a healthy clip and cleaning up the rink as usual.
Steve Silva, F, Trenton (ECHL): Silva has been on an absolute tear since returning from injury, scoring 9 points in 9 games, especially at clutch moments.
Chad Costello, F, Colorado (ECHL): The far and away leading scorer in the ECHL was just returned to Colorado after being on loan from Springfield (AHL), where he played with former teammate Wade MacLeod (despite getting very little ice time) for four games over the holiday. He has a staggering 52 points in 30 games, and potted a hat trick in his return.
Kyle Kraemer, F, Ontario (ECHL): Kraemer, who’s been battling knee issues all year, has been on a four game tear in the new year, scoring six points.